Detecting microalgae in coastal waters

Dauphin Island Sea Lab scientist seeks improved method for detecting microalgae in coastal waters

Dr. Hugh MacIntyre, Senior Marine Scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama, and colleague Richard Cox of Kaitech Inc. have been awarded $270,274 to develop a tool for improved detection of microalgae by the Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET).

Microalgae are the foundation of the aquatic food web. However, 'blooms', which are very dense populations, lead to low oxygen "dead zones," fish kills, and-depending on the species-human health risks. To protect their communities, coastal managers must monitor and characterize algal populations that change quickly over space and time. In vogue are fluorescence-based optical monitors that 'see' chlorophyll a, a plant pigment that is present in all algal species. However, these tools are less effective in turbid coastal waters and do not identify alternative pigments, so cannot distinguish between different types of algal species.

The researchers will build on a previous CICEET project to develop a field stage prototype of a laser fluorometer that detects multiple target pigments and can differentiate between different types of algae.

"Knowledge is power. We hope this instrument will characterize microalgal populations rapidly and easily, for instance for pre-screening samples for the potentially-harmful types during a red tide," said Dr. MacIntyre. "This fluorometer could be of enormous use for those who monitor our waters to determine their safety, as well as an effective tool for scientists and researchers."

Dr. MacIntyre will work closely with the Weeks Bay, AL.; Grand Bay, MS; and North Inlet-Winyah Bay, SC, National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs).

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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